Crime, Law and Social Change

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 375–396 | Cite as

State and criminal violence in Latin America

  • José Miguel CruzEmail author


Most explanations of the high levels of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean have focused on economic factors, cultural variables, and drug wars. In this article, I argue that it is necessary to bring the state back into the analysis of criminal violence by examining the many ways in which the state directly contributes to violence. State agents contribute to the escalation of criminal violence in the region by extending the legal limits of the use of legitimate force, by tolerating and supporting the employment of extralegal approaches to deal with crime and disorder, and by partnering with criminal groups and militias. They do this while seeking legitimacy and constructing political authority. The modern-day participation of state institutions in the reproduction of violence stems from the particular mode of state development in Latin America, which has tended to outsource and negotiate the means of legitimate force with different social actors. Processes of democratization of the last three decades unintendedly opened the space for more violent contestation by emergent state-related actors.


Organize Crime Latin American Country Public Security Criminal Organization Gang Member 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author wish to express his gratitude to Astrid Arraras, Frank Mora, Rosario Queirolo, and the five anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this essay.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean CenterFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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